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JJ 07/70: Art Farmer talks to Fred Bouchard

'I can listen to a group like Fifth Dimension and like it very much. Sergio Mendes is beautiful. I might even buy some of these records if I had a lot of bread. But Gary Burton can do all the rock and roll tunes he likes, and it don’t mean a damn thing to me.' First published in Jazz Journal July 1970

‘It seems to me to be far easier to play on a good melody than to blow a lot of these “non-tunes” based on a single chord that some are playing these days’

“I have been playing in pretty much the same style for ten years now, because I have been pursuing a certain mode of expression and I am not yet totally satisfied with it.

“I want to play a melody in such a way that, however I feel about it during any given performance, the listener will be able to feel the flow of the words and the tune through my interpretation.

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“It seems to me to be far easier to play on a good melody than to blow a lot of these ‘non-tunes’ based on a single chord that some are playing these days. If you’ve got a good melody, you’re halfway there; but if the tune is only four bars long, or not even that, you have to bring more to the song than there is in it to begin with to get anything out of it at all.

“Everybody I hear influences me: Miles, Dizzy, Fats Navarro, Benny Bailey, Kenny Dorham, Blue Mitchell, Roy Eldridge.

“But I don’t think much about a lot of these modern fusion things, so I don’t go out of my way to listen to them. I don’t think that they’re really happening, but it’s just my impression. Everybody has his own ideas about jazz, and I’m limited in my viewpoint. Yet I can listen to a group like Fifth Dimension and like it very much. Sergio Mendes is beautiful. I might even buy some of these records if I had a lot of bread. But Gary Burton can do all the rock and roll tunes he likes, and it don’t mean a damn thing to me.

“As far as the young trumpeters go, I like Bill Dixon very much. He’s a good composer, too, and has a lot to say. Marion Stanley is a good young New York player. Randy Brecker, now, he was over here recently with Horace Silver, he’s a good player. And this guy over here with Max Roach – Charles Tolliver, that’s him – he can play. Now I haven’t heard everybody, but these guys I mentioned I like very much.

“Miles? I haven’t heard him much since I’ve been in Europe, but a few weeks ago I did see him on a TV tape that he made last year. He really seems to be putting himself into the horn, and through the horn, more and more all the time. I think that’s very good! He’s getting better personal expression than ever he did – more and more intense all the time.

“When I’m choosing material to play, I first look for a song I like to hear. Then I play it to see if I can play it, you know. After I play it a few times, it may start to turn into something more personal. But I’ve listened to a lot of songs and then tried to play them, only to find they’re not for me. Some tunes you hear you might not feel too definite about at first. They present some kind of challenge; you know something is there but you have to keep on working at it to bring it out. And once you’ve really learned it, you bring it out strongly.

‘I’ve been very lazy about composing. I never write a tune unless it comes to me from begin­ning to end. I don’t feel the compulsion to write because there’s so many good songs to be played’

“Like Here’s That Rainy Day – I’ve been playing that song for about five years now and I didn’t really get to know how to play it ’til last year. There’s a ballad by Tom McIntosh that I play called The Day After. I made a record of it, but I’m still learning how to play it. I’m just a slow learner, I guess. When I hear a song that I really like, I just have to keep with it.

“I’ve been very lazy about composing. I never write a tune unless it comes to me from begin­ning to end. I don’t feel the compulsion to write because there’s so many good songs to be played. Plus the fact, I’m basically just not a writer. Everybody can write a song down now and then; that’s what I do.

“You play some tunes so many times that you just get together a bag of tricks, a certain num­ber of combinations of notes you know you can do. And whatever comes into your mind, you do it. Every now and then you get an original idea that’s here today and gone to­morrow. You play it and don’t even think about it; but those are the times that you wait for. But it can be a pitfall, trying to recapture what you played last night. You can’t get too cons­cious of it or you limit yourself. You have to think of something to play – right now. I learned a long time ago that you can’t try to organize it ahead of time. Some little things might work, but the whole form of the solo won’t. You just have to go from phrase to phrase. What I do when I play is listen to myself and try to follow ideas with something that makes sense either from the point of contrast or develop­ment. I try to avoid staying on one level of volume or range of intensity. I want to start low and go up, play simple phrases, then more complex ones. I get bored listening to a straight line all the time, and I guess the listener must, too.

I’d say the strongest distinguishing quality of my playing is my tone. I prefer the flugelhorn because it gets a more pleasing tone than the trumpet with practically no effort. With the trumpet you have to think about tone all the time, while with the flugelhorn it’s there from the start and you can think more about volume, phrasing. But I practise with the trumpet and I do use it in the (Clarke/Boland) big band. A flugel player has to play the trumpet and stick with it. What you learn to play on the trumpet comes out better on the flugelhorn, but what you learn to play on the flugelhorn you can hardly play on the trumpet. I played the trumpet on one job last fall, but I didn’t like the way it sounded in a small group. The flugel­horn, like any instrument, has its good and bad points. It has a problem of intonation, that’s true. But it does have good tone for a solo instrument. And its articulation is much quicker because the air goes directly into the first valve. On the trumpet it goes around into the third valve, so you get that extra little hesitation.

‘This lyrical thing is a worthy idea, but it doesn’t happen all the time. Sometimes I have a period of not being able to do a damn thing that pleases me’

“As far as style is concerned, I think it’s a bad thing to get tied down to. You find yourself trying to operate within a certain framework that may prevent you from getting out of there and finding something else to do. Somebody says, ‘You’re a lyrical player.’ So I go out and try to play lyrical. But you get tired of playing lyrical, or the same way all the time. You don’t feel lyrical all the time. It’s possible I might just say the hell with it, and do something else. But then when it works out, I say ‘It’s good, it’s good.’ Maybe it can be a night-to-night thing. This lyrical thing is a worthy idea, but it doesn’t happen all the time. Sometimes I have a period of not being able to do a damn thing that pleases me. And other times it works well. I can only say that the idea of it still seems valid to me. Honestly, I haven’t been experimenting with anything, because I’m in a habit of trying to do what I’ve been doing. I’m sort of hung with it unless I get another conception of what to work with. The only time I get bored with it is when it’s not happening. When it does happen, I get personal satisfaction and I feel bound to stay with it.

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